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European Union kicks off review of Barcelona Process

Mideast political issues have dominated the Euro-Med ministers meeting, which was called to start a review of the Barcelona Process and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the partnership between the EU and Mideast states.

But on the wider Euro-Med agenda, the EU is finalizing a trade and political association agreement with Syria. A deal was initialled by both sides earlier this year after a delay owing to differences on a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) clause.

Once Syria is on board, one more obstacle will have been removed from the goal of a Euro-Med free-trade pact by 2010, which along with anti-terrorism cooperation and cultural dialogue were also being discussed at The Hague.

European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said: "Ahead of the 10th anniversary I want to take an honest look at the achievements and the shortcomings of the Barcelona Process, with a view to presenting some concrete new ideas next spring.

"The Barcelona Process is central to our relationship with our neighbors to the south, and the neighborhood policy gives us an opportunity to progress toward even closer relationships with them.

"Offering these partners a closer political and economic relationship with the EU under the neighborhood policy will be one of my top priorities in my new role as commissioner."

The review of the Barcelona Process will be completed in time for the next foreign minister's meeting in Luxembourg in May.

The Euro-Med process is the only regional forum where Israel and its Arab neighbors sit together for dialogue, albeit anchored on Mediterranean nations' trade and political ties with the EU.

The meeting was also being attended by foreign ministers or deputies from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.

Libya, though not yet a member of the Barcelona Process, attended as a guest of the Netherlands in another sign of its re-emergence onto the global stage.

Libya remains outside the Barcelona Process but has been coming in from the cold since last year when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi renounced his own WMD program.

Beirut,11 29 2004
Redaction
The Daily Star
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